The whistle is being sold by a private collector and was reputedly discovered in the manor of Smallbridge in Bures St Mary, Suffolk, the home of the Waldegrave family where Elizabeth I was entertained for two days by Sir William Waldegrave in 1561.
Hawking or Falconry whistles from the Medieval and Tudor period are very rare with only four other examples in silver listed on the Portable Antiquities Scheme, while another three are in the Museum of London collection. They were often worn as jewellery, sewn onto the owner’s garments, and used not only for hunting, but also to summon servants and hounds!
Measuring just 44.5mm, the 16th century silver gilt hawking whistle is engraved with decoration including initials, conjoined A and V on one side and an N on the opposite side. None of the other known examples are gilded or comparable in refinement to the piece in DNW’s sale. Other examples were made of pewter or brass, however it was felt that silver projected the best sound.
In 1217 at the beginning of Henry III’s reign, the Carta de Foresta (Charter of the Forest) was signed, granting rights to all free men which included the use of birds of prey for hawking. At this time hawking became an important means of catching game as well as a popular sport.
Birds of prey were used originally in Medieval times to capture quarry, goshawks were trained to catch hare, rabbits and pheasants, gyrfalcons caught rook and heron. During the reign of Edward III, whilst at war with France, the King took with him 30 falconers. Gyrfalcons and peregrines were reserved for the nobility with Henry VIII an important advocate of falconry; there is an important gold hawking whistle in the Victoria and Albert Museum given by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Grand hunting parties were hosted by Kings and Lords, and hawking became an essential element of personal and national prestige, with retained falconers accompanied their masters, and the ‘Master of the Mews’ position reserved for the King’s best falconer.
Whistles in the Tudor period were designed like pieces of jewellery, they are also referred to as a short Buson-type whistle or as a whistle pendant – one can be seen in an oil painting in London’s National Portrait Gallery of Sir Nicholas Bacon, circa 1579, wearing an elaborate dragon jewelled whistle. Around 1600, falconry reached its peak and was regarded as the proper sport for a gentleman. The success of firearms in the 17th century eventually superseded the demand for falconry as a hunting tool.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
Details of the gold whistle in the V&A Collection: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O78338/miniature-whistle-pendant/
Details of the Portrait in the NPG: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp00206/sir-nicholas-bacon
FORTHCOMING SALES OF JEWELLERY, WATCHES AND OBJECTS OF VERTU
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Dix Noonan Webb – a brief history
In 1991, its first year of trading, the company held three medal auctions and sold 1,200 lots for a total hammer price of £553,000. Two years later it opened a coin department which also auctions commemorative medals and tokens and in 2015 DNW added jewellery to its sales calendar. Last year, it set up a standalone banknotes department and expanded into premises next door. In 2018 DNW achieved a total hammer price of £11,676,580 and the total number of lots across all departments was 20,273. To date the company has sold in excess of 300,000 lots totalling £155 million.
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